Louvre Abu Dhabi leaders appointed: no major surprises, just two safe pairs of hands

Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi), which runs the Louvre Abu Dhabi project, has announced the key appointments for the museum. Manuel Rabaté has been named as Louvre Abu Dhabi Director; the Deputy Director will be Hissa Al Dhaheri.

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Manuel Rabaté

Both are entirely predictable and long expected appointments, given that Rabaté is the current CEO of Agence France-Muséums – the body that was set up specifically to carry through the commitments of France to the Louvre Abu Dhabi project – and Hissa Al Dhaheri was the head of the TCA team on the Louvre Abu Dhabi. They are widely regarded as strong candidates, with Al Dhaheri especially proving an articulate advocate and a good public face for the project.

HE Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of TCA Abu Dhabi, referenced the role of Louvre Abu Dhabi as part of “a wider vision that prioritises culture in the capital” and commended the appointments as celebrating the spirit of the museum. “Their combined alliance and strong track record leading the team here in Abu Dhabi will be indispensable as we embark on the next pivotal stage of Louvre Abu Dhabi.”

Hissa Al Dhaheri

Rabaté has been involved with the project for more than eight years and Al Dhaheri for six. He’s a French national and she is Emirati, so the symbolism seems apt for this intergovernmental collaboration.

Rabaté graduated from the prestigious Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris and the HEC business school but despite the lack of a professional arts/museum education he has spent his entire career in French museums, including some of the top names – notably the Musée du Quai Branly as well as the Musée du Louvre itself. He’s never actually run a whole museum, but he had been part of the Louvre Abu Dhabi project from the earliest days.

Prior to joining the Louvre Abu Dhabi team, Al Dhaheri lectured on global studies courses at Zayed University. She joined TCA Abu Dhabi to run outreach programmes, and she introduced the Museum Scholarship Programme for Emiratis. At 32 she’s young for her new role;  and while Al Dhaheri doesn’t have an educational or professional background of direct relevance to museum management, she too has been involved in the project for a long while and clearly knows it inside out.

The construction work at Louvre Abu Dhabi is nearing its final stages, but while it seems likely that the physical build will be completed this year the museum won’t open for visitors until sometime in 2017 – we heard March/April at the earliest and late summer or autumn 2017 as the more likely date. The current official statement is that “Louvre Abu Dhabi will welcome visitors in 2017 and its opening date is expected to be announced soon”.

Apparently the building will need “an important preparation phase, essential for a museum of this magnitude, that includes testing, art installation and development of the visitor experience ahead”. But then you might have thought that this could have been anticipated when the (revised) opening date of late 2016 was announced a while ago …

Agence France-Muséums remains umbilically linked to the project, of course, since it has a 20-year contract signed in 2008 to provide consultancy services “to the authorities of the UAE”. Those services cover the basic presentation of the Louvre’s content – to wit:

  • Definition of the scientific and cultural programme
  • Assistance with project management including museography, signage and multimedia projects
  • Coordinating loans from French collections and the organisation of temporary exhibitions,
  • Creation of a permanent collection,
  • Support with the museum’s policy on visitors.

And though Agence France-Muséums obviously draws on expertise within the French museum sector, it happens to be financed “entirely” by the United Arab Emirates. Given those constraints, Manuel Rabaté’s appointment seems as desirable as it was predictable.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi, a $1 billion project with a stunning designed by AtelierJean Nouvel, will be a substantial management task for the new appointees. Described as “the first universal institution in the Middle East” it already has more than 600 pieces in its own collection; over the next decade, at least 300 more artworks will be lent to the museum by French cultural institutions. The museum will have 23 permanent galleries plus emporary exhibition spaces, a research centre, and educational facilities.

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